I’m pleased to report that the first full day of my OnStar road trip had none of the previous night’s drama. The 2015 Chevrolet Trax and I proceeded uneventfully from Kingman through Monument Valley and the rest of the epic landscape along Arizona’s otherworldly Route 163, pressing on to Durango, Colorado, for a late dinner. Since there are no emergencies to document, I’ll go in-depth on a couple of features that are of particular interest to travelers who like to make it up as they go along.
4G LTE Wi-Fi
The Wi-Fi works, and pretty well at that. I had my doubts going in, but they’ve proven mostly unfounded. You connect a device the same way you would in a Starbucks: Find the Trax hot spot wireless network, enter the password (easily accessible via the touchscreen interface) and you’re good to go. Having your phone connected to Wi-Fi means it uses less battery power, so you don’t have to recharge as often. You can also connect a tablet, a laptop computer and whatever else you need to stay on the grid.
The Wi-Fi came in especially handy when I was composing the first article in this series. I’d been working at a small-town Starbucks, but it closed before I could finish, and the store’s Wi-Fi went down, too, so I couldn’t mooch off of it from outside. There weren’t any other options at that hour, and the portable hot spot function isn’t enabled on my iPhone 5. I was in a bind. Then I remembered that I had Internet in the car; I could sit in the driver’s seat and wrap things up. And that’s exactly what I did. The 4G connection handled the job just fine, including a few photo uploads. It’s a great option for people who might need to do some work from the road.
The only issue I’ve encountered is that the coverage isn’t 100-percent comprehensive, and on a few occasions I’ve discovered that I actually had 3G data coverage on my phone (via Sprint) when the Wi-Fi had nothing. These were exceptions to the norm, however; the Wi-Fi coverage has otherwise been superior. The annoying part, though, was that my phone continued to be connected to the hot spot despite the absence of data, meaning that I had to turn the phone’s Wi-Fi connection off manually in order to get 3G data service. No big deal, just something that you might occasionally have to deal with.
OnStar has recently added some concierge-type services to its repertoire, and I’ve been using the hotel reservation service throughout this trip. It’s a cool idea, but there are a few shortcomings that I’d like to see GM rectify if I were a paying customer.
First, I’ve been told by multiple operators that they can’t keep my credit card number on file, so if the hotel needs that number in order to hold the room, you’re out of luck. It’s not like you’re going to read the number aloud off your card while you’re driving, right? I wonder why they don’t offer to file the number away for future use.
Second, as of this writing, OnStar can only make reservations through its partnership with Priceline.com. If you want to stay at a hotel that’s not on Priceline (the historic Strater Hotel in Durango, for example), you’re on your own. I ended up walking into the Strater, a most excellent Wild West establishment that was recommended to me by an operator based on its proximity to downtown, and getting a room the old-fashioned way.
Finally, the operators don’t have access to online consumer reviews, so their ability to help you make an informed choice is basically limited to pricing and location data. I don’t know about you, but when I’m booking a hotel room from home, I always read consumer reviews to get a feel for the various options. It’d be great if OnStar could do that work for you somehow while you focus on the drive. As things stand, I think you’re better off pulling over, doing your own research via Wi-Fi and reserving through the Internet. OnStar does offer a modest discount on reservations, but in my experience it’s been no better than a AAA discount or even some standard online rates through sites such as Booking.com.
Moral of the Story
I like both of these features, and 4G LTE Wi-Fi is one that I would recommend to many shoppers without hesitation. I think OnStar could do better with the hotel reservations, though, particularly given how accustomed most of us are to having a full range of data and options before us when making purchasing decisions.
Up Next: New Mexico